Polish Lessons (5) – Dozy…what?

Stumbled up this: 20 more awesomely untranslatable words from around the world. It’s the part two of a collection of words that give you a glimpse into the culture that has given birth to them. Schadenfreude doesn’t speak well of its parents, but it’s adopted into the English Language and unfortunately, it’s a sentiment that knows no national boundaries.

Scrolling down the list, I found a Polish contribution – dozywocie. Never heard of it. It’s defined as ‘Many cultures share this concept, but Polish sums it up in a single word. “Parental contract with children guaranteeing lifelong support”’. That raises the question of who is giving whom a lifelong support? I presented the questions to my pals.

A friend with an education in law came back with: Dożywocie, most commonly, is a kind of punishment. When a person gets a dożywocie from a judge it means that she/he will spend the rest of their life in jail. Usually we do not use this word in any other context. Sometimes, marriage can be descibed as ‘dożywocie’. Then it means that if you get married u r sentenced to spend the rest of ur life with someone. You entered in a life-long contract.

And she added: There is a kind of ‘dożywocie’ contract u can put in the last will. E.g. u have an apartment (owned just by u), and u can said in your will that the ur sister will inherit the apartment but ur husband can use the apartment until his death (dożywocie). This kind of contract can be also done between children and parents or other people (not relatives).

Another contact who grew up in the countryside and has a degree, or three, in ethnology related disciplines, responded with: Dozywocie is an interesting term. The first meaning is “life sentence” (imprisonment). But traditionally, especially in rural families, older generation handing over the farm to one of their children could ask for dozywocie, that is the commitment that son with his new wife would keep them (parents) and take care of them (parents). Nowadays it sounds very strange but I have read a book about it and it was fascinating.

Related posts: Polish PossiblePolish Lessons (4) – Sign LanguagePolish Lessons (3) – The Village PeoplePoIish Lessons (2) – I Made ThisPolish Lessons (1),

About kitfchung

Experienced food and travel journalist based in Warsaw, Poland.
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